Arnold Zetcher's So Brilliant advanced his record to a perfect two-for-two in Thursday's Grade 3, $100,000 Hollywood Prevue, handing Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a record fifth win in this stepping stone to the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. Sadly, the Thanksgiving Day feature was marred by the fatal breakdown of the promising Galex.
So Brilliant didn't look particularly flashy, but the 7-5 favorite managed to get the job done despite being surrounded by challenges. Having broken his maiden in front-running fashion, So Brilliant was expected to be part of a contentious pace with the speedy Sweet Swap. That forecast scenario changed a bit when Sweet Swap was scratched.
But So Brilliant complicated his own task by lurching inward at the start, and jockey Martin Garcia had to get the blinkered gray organized. Meanwhile, two rivals flashed early speed – Hodge toward the inside, and to the outside, Galex, runner-up to Baffert's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint hero Secret Circle in the Jack Goodman Stakes last time out.
Regrouping in short order, So Brilliant moved up to make it a line of three abreast for a few strides. Then Hodge conceded the lead, and So Brilliant overtook Galex through the opening quarter in :22 4/5. But Galex hung tough. Even as Hodge renewed his advance, Galex was still prominent in third, until he was injured and pulled up entering the far turn.
So Brilliant was increasingly pressed by Hodge, and the duo battled eyeball-to-eyeball through a half in :46 3/5 and six furlongs in 1:10 3/5. Although So Brilliant clung stubbornly onto his left lead for the length of the stretch, he was traveling more strongly than his opponent.
Once So Brilliant finally put Hodge away and edged clear inside the final furlong, another threat emerged in Brother Francis. The closer was making good headway, but So Brilliant was going too well to be caught and maintained a half-length margin at the wire. He negotiated seven Cushion Track furlongs in 1:22 4/5 and paid $4.80, $3.20 and $2.60.
"He's still learning day to day," Garcia said. "He has a lot more than he showed today. He's still a little green.
"He broke in a little bit, but went right on with it. Let me tell you, he's a good horse. He was doing everything on his own. I didn't even have to ask him.
"I got into him in the stretch because I could feel the others were gaining, but when he feels another horse coming up to him, he just takes off. He's such a nice horse."
The maiden Brother Francis, who was second to Hodge in his debut, turned the tables by 1 1/4 lengths on Thursday. The tiring Hodge barely held third by a head from Sheer Talent, with Muchos Besos another neck away in fifth. Empire Way, a sharp winner at first asking just 11 days ago, was never in contention and brought up the rear.
Galex suffered severe injuries to his left front ankle. He fractured his sesamoids and had to be euthanized, casting a pall over the holiday.
So Brilliant has now bankrolled $87,000. In his October 22 premiere at Santa Anita, he set blistering fractions en route to a 2 1/4-length success, finishing six furlongs in a quick 1:09. He coped just fine with the added ground on Thursday, as his pedigree implied. The son of Medaglia d'Oro is out of the stakes-winning Wekiva Springs mare Merry Me in Spring.
Bred by Stonewall Farm Stallions in Kentucky, So Brilliant has increased in value in every trip to the sales ring. A $190,000 Keeneland November weanling, he commanded $200,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling, and went to Zetcher for $300,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Florida two-year-old earlier this year.
So Brilliant joins stablemate and fellow Zetcher colorbearer Liaison, hero of the November 12 Real Quiet Stakes, on the short list for the December 17 CashCall Futurity. None of Baffert's previous Hollywood Prevue winners – In Excessive Bull (1996), Commitisize (1997), Premier Property (1998) and Massive Drama (2007) – went on to turn the double in the Futurity, but So Brilliant could try to rewrite that statistic.